Google and Apple are set to tussle in mobile augmented reality, pitting Android handsets against the iPhone, according to ABI Research, which sees a $3 billion AR market.
Google and Apple meet on several battlefields in the mobile computing war,
but there is one big front where the rivals have yet to show their weapons:
mobile augmented reality.
Mobile augmented reality (AR),
which comprises the overlay of information on real-world views seen through a
mobile phone's camera viewfinder, is the window to the Internet of
Things, where real-world objects have data associated with them.
For example, one AR application could allow users to point their phone's
camera at a building, click on an information label associated with the
building and see information about the building's history.
ABI Research analyst Mark Beccue has been
studying mobile AR, which to date has largely been a niche market covered by
startups such as Layar and Wikitude, which have built AR browsers for
smartphones such as Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform.
Beccue said the 2010 revenue total associated with AR amounted to only $21
million, but added that the total could explode to $3 billion by 2016.
Who will facilitate the growth, which he sees infiltrating mobile marketing,
online search, tourism, retail, social networking and many more verticals?
Google and Apple, of course.
Google and Apple will become major rivals and facilitators in this space
because they each possess computer vision technologies that rely on smartphone
cameras that send image information to the companies' computing clouds, then
back to the users' phones to complete an action.
Google offers Google Goggles, a visual search application that lets users
take pictures of objects such as landmark bridges, book covers, wine bottles
and other two-dimensional objects.
Apple acquired Polar Rose, which makes facial recognition
software and other products that enable the "automatic creation of events
based on visual cues in images."
Apple hasn't said what it is doing with these assets, but Beccue believes
the computer maker could adapt the assets as a social networking capability on
the iPhone. For example, Beccue said a user might hold his or her phone camera
up to a person and see that person's social networking feeds from Facebook,
Twitter and other social apps.
Of course, there are all sorts of privacy concerns with this, so Beccue said
such a service would have to be completely opt-in. If an iPhone user didn't
choose to turn on the facial recognition enablement for the app, his or her social
feeds would not be accessible from other users' iPhone cameras.
Google, which has deliberately (Google Buzz) and inadvertently (Google
Street View) challenged privacy boundaries, has interestingly declined to make
facial recognition a part of Goggles due to the privacy concerns.
"Google is being driven by search, which is being driven by a new kind
of search, [which] would be [the Internet of] Things," Beccue said.
"They started with books and CD covers, but we're talking about anything.
There are a lot of different pieces they need, but they have very sophisticated
For example, Google could marry Google Goggles with its Google Shopper application.
This would allow a shopper to point his or her phone camera at an article of
clothing in a retail store and learn perhaps not only all of the sizes
available, but all of the colors and even information about which stores might
carry the clothing article at a discount.
The key to real AR market growth, Beccue told eWEEK, is to embed AR into a
wide range of apps running on a variety of devices. That's when we'll see the
tipping point en route to that $3 billion estimation ABI
expects in the next five years.